Living With Bipolar Disorder

Independent Living

What would it be like to learn you have a mental illness as an adult? This is the experience that many people with mental health issues have, since often symptoms of serious disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia do not appear until a person has reached their twenties. By the time that she started having severe symptoms, Ellen Forney was already a celebrated cartoonist with a full life. Though her diagnosis explained a lot about her past that she had never understood, it also meant that she had to completely change her life. Going on mood-altering medication sent her into a profound and long lasting depression which affected her social life and her career. Exploring her family's history with mental illness meant facing painful and challenging memories. Hardest of all, however, was Forney's struggle to face her fear of losing her creativity.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me tells the story of Forney's journey to recover her health through Forney's preferred medium: comics. This graphic memoir is at sweet and serious, both a record of struggle and a testament to the power of hope, family, therapy, and medication. As Forney explains, after being diagnosed with Bipolar I she realized that she had long associated her mental health problems with artistic creativity, not illness. When she was in a manic state, she would find herself drawing for hours and hours, producing work she was proud of. When she completed a big project, she would often go into a depression, but she believed that depression was the cost of art. For her, being depressed after creating something great felt worth it.

As she learns about her diagnosis, however, Forney discovers that--though many great artists did have bipolar--many of them also fell prey to substance abuse and suicide because of it. Realizing that she does not want to end up like her hero Van Gogh, she puts her trust in her therapist and in her medications. Though she does go through a period of artistic inactivity during her depression, she ultimately finds her creative spark again. As she learns, her creativity was always a part of her. It wasn't her bipolar which caused it. Rather, getting healthy meant that she would be able to make art for a long time to come.

We recommend Marbles to anyone who has ever feared that getting well would cause them to lose a part of themselves. This is often a particular concern for people who work in creative fields and find source material in their illness, or for people who have addiction issues. In the end, however, this is a great book for anyone seeking to understand their own differences or those of a loved one.

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